Can L&D solve problems without using the C word (and the P word)?

[For the faint of heart, the C word = course].

This post has been simmering away on a back burner for some number of weeks now. As a result, there is a good risk it is horribly stewed and not really in a state for consumption. Having returned to it multiple times, I seem to believe that there is an idea in here with some nutritional value. I will proceed on that basis and see what you make of it.

One further qualifier: the germ of this post is something that has crossed my mind since my arrival on the L&D scene (there is a scene isn’t there?). This partly explains my nervousness at presenting it – it might be very out of date.

It begins with a memory jog from a Twitter exchange between Paul Jocelyn and Jane Hart, probably a couple of weeks ago, tugging at the “why are L&D teams so wedded to the past” thread. Paul offered the brilliant quote from Clay Shirky by way of partial explanation:  “Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.”

In L&D terms, this means we seek problems for which the course, a programme, an event and some content are the answer. These may or may not be learning, training or performance problems. But, if Shirky’s aphorism is accurate, this is by the by. We like these problems because we are ready to create their solutions, not because they are the most valuable problems to solve.

As a result we tend to cling to compliance, induction and leadership programmes as organisational problems we can solve from our existing models and formats. If courses are the solution, we’re in business. If these problems are removed (or not presented i.e. the orders are not placed), where does L&D find solid ground upon which to present it’s value to clients?

Signals of value are crucial. There is something important in the language we use to explain and describe what we can offer to our customers. Stakeholders know what a course is and how it works. They know how to ask for one. They know what to expect. Crucially, they know how to talk to their colleagues and peers about what is happening and what they should expect too. We need new names for new products that raise similarly clear expectations but solve different problems.

There is a challenge here for resources, learning experiences, social learning and other newer (?) forms of learning solution we might design and offer. They don’t have organisational currency in the same way. Often, these interventions need to be described and explained before they can be approved. At worst, they need to be justified and are seen as a risk due to their lack of familiarity. They are not part of the corporate lingua franca. I am reminded of the jaundiced old quote: “nobody was ever fired for buying IBM” – nobody was ever fired for requesting an eLearning module.

Add to this L&Ds anxious grip on the learning management system and it is not so hard to see why the locus of the industry is frozen in programme delivery. We know how to solve these problems and seek them out and celebrate the good ones too.

Can the industry break through these preoccupations and ingrained behaviours or will it take interventions from elsewhere to break the mould? I suspect the marketing industry has some good examples of product names to offer as solutions to the root problems programmes are aimed at. Maybe a campaign should be started? 


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